Friday, September 30, 2011

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

You may begin to see fewer reviews from me as it gets closer to my second baby's due date. I have just a month left, so I've been "nesting" and cleaning and not doing a lot of reading. But when I finally got around to starting the next book on my list, it didn't take me long to finish it. Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, by Richard Paul Evans, was recommended to me by my father-in-law and brother-in-law. They'd read it after hearing about it from conservative radio and talk show host Glenn Beck, whose publishing house, along with Simon Pulse, had printed it.

Michael Vey is young adult science fiction with a male teen protagonist who should draw in a male readership (although, I enjoyed this book, too). Michael Vey, himself, is a seemingly average kid whose only apparent differences are that he has Tourette's syndrome (which manifests itself in involuntary facial tics rather than swearing; I didn't know it could do that) and an unlucky penchant for drawing notice from bullies. He's picked on wherever he goes, and he's been around. He's been in this town long enough to have a close friend, a brilliant, though nerdy, kid named Ostin, so it's imperative that he keep his secret from getting out. And what is his secret? He could stop all the bullying in every school he's been to, if he wanted, if he dared...because Michel Vey is electric. He can electrocute someone with a touch, which is just what he does when he finally gets sick of taking the abuse. But this mistake draws the exact unwanted attention his mother has been trying to protect him from all these years. Someone has been looking for the electric kids, all seventeen of them, and when he finds them, he has the power to force them to obey his will. Michael's bullying problems have really only just begun.

This is a fun mutant/superhero story. The idea is creative and sounds well-researched, even if it might not be. Michael is the sweetest kid, but he has steel in him, too. The story is a fantastic example of real good versus evil, not this wishy-washy become-evil-to-fight-evil stuff. With great power may come great responsibility, but that doesn't mean you sacrifice your morals along the way. Michael Vey doesn't. And the book has great themes of forgiveness in it.

All around, it's an awesome story for teens, and it has little for me to complain about. The only thing I have is something a writer would notice. The book is dialog heavy and probably more detailed, especially in the dialog, than it needs to be. Seemingly nonessential dialog is often included, probably to make it seem more realistic. But aside from being noticeable, it doesn't slow down the story much. At the end, there was a lot of detailed action going on, which could have been a problem if I had tried to understand it all. Instead, I just kept reading, and I got the whole gist of it. It's all very logical, but sometimes the reader doesn't need to see exactly how you get from point A to point B. But this is also a writing style, and just because it's not my favorite doesn't mean the story isn't good. And it is good.

So, get on down to your local bookstore for Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25. This book would make a great gift for any teenage boy. Or, if you don't know any teenage boys, your dad might like it, too.

Additional Note: I apologize to my readers that I haven't been able to post book pictures or links to Amazon recently. My easy little widget for adding those things quit working, so I may have to start doing it the old-fashioned way.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to mention the first time that this is the first book in a series, so while it has a satisfactory ending for the beginning of the story, it doesn't end the story.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Love. in Theaters

In this movie-drought time of the year, if you've gone to the theater, chances are you've seen this one already. But it's not out of theaters yet, so if you haven't seen it, hopefully this will help you decide whether to take the plunge or wait for the good ones coming out soon.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. stars Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and some pretty good child/teen actors. It's a bit of a mix of genres, but mainly Romantic Comedy rated mostly appropriately at PG-13. Having said that, though, I do have to mention that there are some wildly inappropriate parts. Ryan Gosling plays a hunky ladies' man (Jacob) who stalks the bar and takes home women just for sex. Although no sex is seen, the innuendo is all there. Also, the F-word is used.

But the story has a message, which in many ways balances out the negative aspects. Steve Carell plays Cal Weaver, a husband and father who's grown so used to life that he takes his wife for granted and doesn't love her with any sort of fire anymore. His wife, Emily (Julianne Moore), in turn, cheats on him and asks for a divorce, which he gives her like an old dog rolling over to die, passionless. But he misses her so badly he can't stop talking about her at the bar, which gets the attention of ladies' man Jacob. Here, the story gets really muddy morally. Cal, who's never had sex with any woman but his wife (which I wholeheartedly applaud), proceeds to follow Jacob's advice to his detriment. This whole part of the movie is mixed with a lot of humor, making it less unpleasant to watch, but it's still wrong. In time, however, Cal looks better, has learned how to get the spark back, and realizes he has only one soul mate.

But there's a whole lot more to the end that I don't want to spoil. Suffice it to say, it's laugh-out-loud funny with great, quotable lines. And the outcome is happily satisfactory. There's more than one romance (some of it inappropriate), but it all connects in the end. You are probably wondering what role Emma Stone gets to play, but I'll leave that as a surprise. It's hard to explain without explaining too much.

The messages I don't like about the movie are these: you need to experience more than one woman to be good at sex, sex is part of a premarital relationship but means more if you just don't do it the first night, masturbation is okay if the person you are thinking about gives you permission. Those are the big ones, and let me just emphasize again: I DON'T agree with the above.

Now, the messages I really appreciate about the movie: you can love just one person all your life; you can get back together after divorce; you can still love your spouse even when you think you hate him or her; marriage takes effort, but the effort is worth it.

So, you weigh the negative against the positive to decide whether or not this is a movie worth watching. I can't exactly recommend it, but at the same time, I can say that it didn't leave me feeling dirty, for all that it could have. Knowing what it contained, I might not have chosen to watch it, but having watched it, I can't say I regret it.

Three stars.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Source Code on DVD (2011)

This was one of those movies that I stumbled upon while browsing Netflix, and it just sounded interesting to me. Source Code is science fiction, telling the story of an army pilot, Colter Stevens, who wakes in a spacey-looking capsule to find an unfamiliar face on a screen giving him orders to re-enter the dream he's just had. In fact, his mission is to re-enter the 8-minute dream as many times as it takes to find the bomber that exploded a train in Chicago earlier that day and is planning another attack. The dream takes Stevens into the mind of one of the men on that train just before the explosion.

But here are the catches. Stevens doesn't remember how he got into the capsule or where he is, and his mission controllers aren't giving him many hints. And then there's the pretty woman he keeps waking up to on the train. Each 8 minutes that he has, he gets to know her better, and he wants to save her life. But the source code, where his mind goes to solve the mystery, isn't like that, he's told. The events have already happened; he can't save her life. As Stevens begins to realize the truth, he finds purpose and focus and rises to the challenge of what he must do.

This movie is a little like a serious version of Groundhog Day, where one man keeps living the same scenario over and over. But it's fascinating, not boring. Each time is a little different, especially as he makes different choices. And the characters are fantastic. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Stevens. Vera Farmiga plays Goodwin, the lady behind the screen who sends him on his missions and begins to get attached, despite all efforts to maintain distance and secrecy. Michelle Monaghan is Christina, the girl on the train. And the set is minimal: mostly the train and a couple rooms in a top-secret military operations base. It all adds up to great sci-fi...until the end. The end is better than I thought it would be, but at the same time, it's a little "timey-wimey" as the Doctor would say. And while Dr. Who can get away with that, a serious hour-and-a-half movie cannot as easily. My husband and I have differing viewpoints about what really happens in the end. Regardless, it's an interesting, fun sci-fi thriller with a PG-13 rating for intense scenes, violence, and just a little language. I found the rating appropriate. Three and a half stars.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From My Own Pen: The Day After

Here's another self-published book I contributed to this year. It just became available to the public this month.

The Day After is a short story collection with a broad focus spanning several genres: spy comedy, science fiction, zombie horror, and gothic horror. Essentially, each story has something to do with "the day after." In this particular collection, two of the stories are fairly dark in theme, one is dark but told more comedically, and one is pure lighthearted fun. The latter is mine, a spy comedy that stretched my storytelling skills beyond my comfort zone in some ways but was totally me in other ways, and when I say "totally me," I mean that if you took out the spy and hotel job parts, you'd basically have my life.

This book is a promotional tool for me, my husband Nick, and our friends: Nathan Marchand and Keith Osmun. It's a sampler of our work, and it's meant to draw an audience to our various websites and projects. The print version is available for $6.99 at, and the ebook is just $1.99 on

And now, the back cover copy, to whet your appetite:

Natalya is an American mom and wife with a Russian name working as a spy for the Brazilian government in a Midwest American town. Balancing dual identities is dangerous–and sometimes comical–especially when her husband hasn’t a clue.
Morana is on a suicide mission to transmit a bestial virus to her enemies when she encounters a smalltown family with the potential to break through her boundaries of hatred. But in the end, will it make a difference, or is it too late for redemption?
Peter, a photojournalist, returns home late to meet his newborn son…but just in time to rescue his family from a national zombie infestation. As they travel toward safer ground, trying to maintain a modicum of normalcy, Peter has the urge to document the disaster, but at what price?
Jacob is trapped in an endless maze of a house that appears to have no exits to the outside world except for a noose in his bedroom. He meets a mysterious stranger in the darkness and discovers pieces of letters he doesn’t remember writing. Who knows how long he’s been there? The noose is tightening.
Four stories, four writers, four genres…one connecting thread. What happens when the main focus of your life is stripped away and all that’s left is the day after?

From My Own Pen: Destroyer

Although this blog is mainly a review site for books and movies that are new to me, it's only fair to myself that I include published pieces I have written or, in the case of Destroyer, co-written. My friend Nathan Marchand self-published a novella he co-wrote with Timothy Deal and me. It's a monster story, and here's the gist of it straight off the back cover:

The American Alliance Army recruits scientists Dr. Steiner and his daughter Eva to build a superweapon to end the long war with the Russo-Chinese Coalition. The towering cyborg they create possesses the image of a dragon, the brain tissue of a once-living T-Rex, and the weaponry of an entire army.

Dubbed “Rex-1,” the cyborg’s mission is to destroy military targets in Moscow. Closely followed by its creators and military commanders and controlled by telepathic technology, Rex-1 wreaks havoc on the Russians, smiting them like a demonic god.

Then the unthinkable happens. Rex-1 goes berserk, defying all orders, and attacks the ship transporting the Americans.

Crashing behind enemy lines in the heart of Moscow, Dr. Steiner and his group are caught in the middle of Rex-1′s rampage. Now with distrust and madness tearing his fellow survivors apart, Dr. Steiner has only one goal:

Destroy Rex-1!

There it is. I don't typically read monster stories, so it was a stretch of my skills to help write one. Nevertheless, I used my strengths to help create the sort of in-depth characters I love to write. I can hardly review my own work, so I'll leave it at that.

You can buy this book in print from for $6.99 or as an ebook from for only $1.99. If monster stories appeal to you, please check this one out!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Crossed is the sequel to the dystopian young adult novel Matched, by Ally Condie, which I must have read before I started writing reviews on this blog. If you plan on reading Matched first, don't read this review as it might contain SPOILERS.

Cassia and Ky met in the Society in Matched. As an Aberration, Ky was not supposed to be in the matching pool, but by accident, Cassia saw his face on her screen before she saw the Society's real match for her, causing her to doubt the Society's choice and pursue a friendship with Ky. A complicated love triangle ensued.

Crossed is alternately narrated by both Cassia and Ky as they try to find each other again in the outer reaches of the Society, where they have been sent. Rumors of the Rising, a group outside the Society's boundaries working against it, have Cassia intrigued, but Ky wants nothing to do with them after what happened to his parents. If they can escape the Society's hold, can they survive alone? And, more importantly, can their love survive, or were they never really meant to be together, after all?

I may have enjoyed this book more than the first, but the truth is, I can't remember much of the details of what happened in Matched. However, both books are entertaining additions to the dystopian genre and are good, clean teen reads. They, perhaps, don't have the desolate feel many other dystopian novels like The Giver or Pure have. They are a little lighter in tone. But they are fun and unique and better than a lot of stuff out there. If you want interesting, clean stories, try these.

Three and a half stars for Crossed, available in November.

ADDENDUM: Thank you to my sister-in-law Summer for getting me a signed copy of this book!

The A-Team (2010) on DVD

I didn't really know what to expect when I sat down to watch The A-Team. I'm not very familiar with the original TV series. But when I saw the previews for Knight and Day and Wild Target on the DVD, both of which I really enjoyed, I began to suspect that the movie would be entertaining.

Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper (whom I best know from Alias) do great acting jobs in this action-packed thriller/comedy. They star with Quinton Jackson and Sharlto Copley, two actors I don't know. Their four slightly off-kilter characters make up the A-team, a group of military survivors who join forces to become the best secret ops team the military has until they are set-up on a mission that goes bad and end up in prison. To clear their names, they must escape and finish the mission right this time, but a few unpleasant surprises await them along the way.

I don't know how this interpretation compares to the original look and feel of the first A-team, but 2010's version is chaotic and over-the-top in believability. Still, as my husband pointed out to me, it's consistent within itself. It's always jumping over those boundaries of believability, from beginning to end. Why it works, I think, is because of the great characters. They are crazy, but they are crazy good, too. You really get the feeling that they can beat all odds, and they are mostly clean, moral people (except maybe for Face, Cooper's character).

The A-Team is rated PG-13 for intense action, violence, some swearing (including just a couple uses of the F-word), and the kicker: smoking. I always laugh a little when a movie is rated for smoking. I don't smoke, and I think it's a serious health risk, sure. And just maybe, smokers who are trying to quit would have a hard time watching other people smoke. But if kids are going to smoke, they're not learning it from the movies. I just think it's a silly thing to rate a movie for when all the good, clean classics are full of people smoking. Anyway, that's a side note.

Though the movie is unrealistic and maybe a tad long for the popcorn sort of movie that it is at almost two hours, it offers at least three and a half stars of enjoyment value.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jane Eyre on DVD (2011 Adaptation)

Just so you know, I have never read Jane Eyre. *Gasp* I know. How can I even call myself a book reviewer? Even my husband has read it. But I am not totally unfamiliar with the story. I did see the 1997 made-for-TV movie with Samantha Morton as Jane Eyre, and I must say, 2011's adaptation was more enjoyable for me, if "enjoyable" is the correct word to use in regards to such a depressing story!

I mean, seriously, why is this story so beloved? Don't get me wrong, I cried a bucketful myself watching this one. But Rochester is old (though not too old in this version), rude, cruel even to Jane at times, and deceitful. What is the appeal?

I'll try to answer my own question. He engages Jane's mind and lets her be herself in a world that has treated her very badly. He's passionate, and Jane's own natural passions have been beaten nearly out of her. He's mysterious, tall, dark, and handsome (at least in the 2011 movie version), which helps modern audiences fall in love with him, too. I don't know if he's good looking in the book, but he has tall, dark, and mysterious going for him for sure. He's essentially the stereotypical "bad boy," who gets his hooks into Jane's innocent spirit and then is somehow softened by her, though the opposite is likely to be true in the real world. For a girl, this kind of domineering, forceful man seems romantic. In the courting dance, where girls play hard to get, they want someone who will play harder to win them. I get that. But I don't think such a match turns out so happily in real life, and I think books like this encourage the belief that it does.

Perhaps I'll read the book one day and be just as enamored as the rest of its fans, but from somewhat of an outsider's viewpoint, this is a strange story, indeed.

Now, as I said before, I did enjoy the 2011 adaptation with Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre and Amelia Clarkson as a young Jane. It helped, too, that Michael Fassbender is a totally better looking, younger Rochester than Ciaran Hinds from the 1997 movie. I felt for Jane, loved her even. I was intrigued by Rochester, felt his magnetic pull on Jane working on me, too. I was thrilled when they finally got to kiss. (Though, is that in the book? I know Austen never had a kissing scene.) I cried when Rochester broke Jane's heart and when they were finally reunited. The story, undoubtedly, has an emotional appeal.

I give the book this praise because it's true, but also to appease those of my readers who might be tempted to assail me with cries of outrage. I don't want to offend, but I do seek to be honest. And stories are meant to be interpreted as the reader will. Some will resonate with Jane Eyre, and others, like me, may hold less favorable opinions. I still acknowledge that this is a classic piece of art, and this movie, in particular, was well done.

Four stars.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Let me just say to start off with, I'm not going to recommend you ever watch Metropolis, a 1927, German-made, two-and-a-half-hour silent film. I'm thoroughly surprised I made it through the whole thing, myself. Nick wanted to watch it for his shared podcast at; an in-depth discussion of it will be on an episode you should be able to listen to soon. I watched it with him because it was two and a half hours of TV in my living room; what else was I going to do? Thankfully, we split it into a two-night show.

Now, to be fair, it's an amazing film for its time, but you have to know how to appreciate silent films. Honestly, they just aren't my thing: the jerky movements, the exaggerated make-up and stage actions, the sparse dialog written on black screens, the pound-you-over-the-head lesson of the movie. In this case, it was something like "The mediator between the head and hands is the heart!" It's really almost comical. But when you think about the movie from the standpoint of the people viewing it at the time, it was probably both remarkable and as fast-paced as it should have been. Since then, we've learned to watch movies differently, as my husband pointed out to me. Our movies are faster, chaotic, but they've gotten so by degrees, matching the pace our lifestyles have set. We expect movies to be unrealistic and as realistic as possible. We accept the impossible in the blink of an eye. In 1927, they were used to seeing plays, so the movie was a glorified play, slowed down so that you could process the unbelievable things portrayed in the movie, things that could never happen so comparatively realistically in a play.

Metropolis is actually science fiction, believe it or not, a vision of their future and our current times. We laugh now, but think about our fantasies for the years ahead. Humans like to dream the impossible, and usually we shoot both too far and too little ahead at the same time. Their vision was much more industrialized; who could have predicted the digital world? But they also envisioned whole cities underground and flight between buildings. The plot is essentially about a young man, Freder, from the upper, wealthy city, who falls in love with a prophetess who is trying to help the laborers of the underground city. He switches places with a worker and learns how miserable life below is, all for the benefit of those above. Meanwhile, a mad scientist creates a double of the prophetess out of a robot to destroy the life and work of his nemesis, Freder's father Joh Fredersen, the creator of the city of Metropolis. Surprisingly, there is a happy ending to the madness. I don't think our movies today would have gone in that direction.

The timing of the movie is interesting. Think about it: 1927 in Germany...right before Hitler. Portions of the film were lost, and then years later, some of those were retrieved in Argentina, of all places. The movie remains incompletely recovered to this day, but any missing pieces are filled in by written narration on black screens.

I guess this movie inspired generations of film makers after, and you can see why, but just take my word for it. Unless you are a film school student or an avid watcher of the classics, this movie has no need to cross your radar...and I apologize for making it cross yours. But if you are like my husband, you might be glad to have seen it, once it is over. Some people can appreciate such things better than I can, movie-lover that I am.

Sucker Punch

When I first saw a preview for this movie, I was sure it was something I'd never watch. But when later previews revealed that it was more than just scantily clad women beating up monsters, I reconsidered.

Sucker Punch is actually about a girl trying to escape an insane asylum, using two fantasy worlds to do it. It's similar to Inception, actually, in that most of the plot takes place in one of these two fantasy worlds and you have to remind yourself that she's actually still in the asylum. Also similar to Inception, the fantasy worlds are like levels in the mind, one within another, time expanding as you go deeper.

In the real world, Baby Doll, as the heroine is called, is about to get a lobotomy. She enters the first fantasy world, which is just a glorified version of her bleak situation in the real world. In this fantasy world, she's been sold to a brothel, and there, she meets four girls who are willing to try to break out with her. These four girls are also inmates in the asylum. In the brothel, she's being saved for a high roller, and she is ordered to create a dance that will entice him. Each time she dances, she enters the second fantasy world, one where she wears leather, wields a sword, and kicks butt, essentially a video game world. We never see her dances, only her fights. Her four friends enter this world with her and battle monsters, dragons, and villains, searching for five items that will allow them to escape. These five items exist in each fantasy world and in the real one.

It's a very interesting concept for a film, and I was thoroughly intrigued by it. Having said that, however, I do have disclaimers. The movie is rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, and mostly mild swearing. I would bump that rating up to an R. There is no actual sex, just the existence of the brothel with its scantily clad women, but the very idea that it takes place in a brothel seemed too mature to me for PG-13. But the brothel is not simply a ploy of the producers to get more viewers. Its existence makes sense in the context of the film, whether I condone it or not. Baby Doll is sold to the insane asylum by her stepfather after a series of tragic events, one of which is that he tries to rape her and her younger sister. This takes place at the beginning of the film and was impressive to me cinematically (not morally) because it's all told visually. There's little narration or dialog. As to the existence of the brothel, in light of this beginning and the lascivious asylum worker who takes the money, it makes sense for Baby Doll to imagine that the asylum is a brothel.

I don't want to spoil the end for you, but I'll say its bittersweetness worked for me. It's mostly sad with a ray of hope, and I would have preferred a slightly happier turn of events. Nonetheless, it wraps up neatly with some nice parallelism. As Baby Doll says, it's not her story, after all.

As fascinating as it was, the movie also disturbed me enough that I'm not sure whether to recommend it or not. The sexual element is pervasive, obviously, and that creates a moral dilemma for me. On one hand, you have a really creative movie with meaningful themes, something different from the norm, which as an artist myself, I really appreciate. On the other hand, the disturbing sexuality of this movie would normally have me ranting against it. I will say, this movie pushed the limits I would give it, but never quite far enough to lose me. There was never a moral ambiguity; the brothel was clearly a place of evil. You have to view it at your own discretion and certainly not with younger kids. I would steer teens away from this, too, except that many of them probably play video games that are far worse, unfortunately. The video game fantasy world of this movie, however, is probably the one safest for your kids to watch.

So, readers, as always, you are free to have your own opinions and make up your own mind, but I've tried to give you something to work with here. Two stars for pervasive scenes and themes of moral degradation. Four stars for originality and creativity.